North and South

North and South

by

Elizabeth Gaskell

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Bessy Higgins Character Analysis

Bessy is Nicholas Higgins’ sickly daughter, whom Margaret meets in the streets of Milton and befriends. Like Margaret, she is 19, but the contrast between their circumstances couldn’t be greater. Bessy is dying of consumption (or perhaps byssinosis), which she has developed after years of work in the cotton mills. She persisted in working despite her poor health out of a desire to be strong and to provide for her family, showing her generous nature. She clings to faith in the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation, and looks forward to life after death to sustain her in her suffering. She develops a deep affection for Margaret. She dies of her illness halfway through the novel.

Bessy Higgins Quotes in North and South

The North and South quotes below are all either spoken by Bessy Higgins or refer to Bessy Higgins. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of North and South published in 1996.
Chapter 11 Quotes

“…[P]oor old wench,—I’m loth to vex thee, I am; but a man mun speak out for the truth, and when I see the world going all wrong at this time o’ day, bothering itself wi’ things it knows nought about, and leaving undone all the things that lie in disorder close at its hand—why, I say, leave a’ this talk about religion alone, and set to work on what yo’ see and know. That’s my creed. It’s simple, and not far to fetch, nor hard to work.”

Related Characters: Nicholas Higgins (speaker), Margaret Hale, Bessy Higgins
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
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Bessy Higgins Character Timeline in North and South

The timeline below shows where the character Bessy Higgins appears in North and South. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret learns that the two are named Nicholas and Bessy Higgins. She is surprised when they wonder why she wants to know their names and... (full context)
Chapter 11
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
One day, when she has been out interviewing servants, Margaret runs into Bessy Higgins in the street. Bessy’s health is not much better, and she tells Margaret that... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
When they arrive at the Higginses’ house, Bessy is exhausted and feverish, asking Margaret, “Do you think such a life as this is... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
At this moment, Nicholas Higgins enters. Higgins tells Margaret he doesn’t want Bessy preached to— “she’s bad enough as it is, with her dreams and her methodee fancies,... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
...alone, and set to work on what yo’ see and know.” Margaret soothes the ailing Bessy further and goes home feeling sad and thoughtful. (full context)
Chapter 13
Nostalgia and Identity Theme Icon
As soon as the Thorntons leave, Margaret hurries to the Higgins’ house to visit Bessy. Bessy asks to hear about Margaret’s childhood home in the country. Margaret has not spoken... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Bessy longs for such rest, after experiencing both hard work and, since she got sick, fitful... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
When Margaret asks her more about her life, Bessy explains that she has been sick since about the time that her mother died, at... (full context)
Chapter 17
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret is slightly cheered when she takes a walk and decides to visit Bessy Higgins. Nicholas Higgins is also at home. He tells Margaret that although Bessy is disheartened... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Bessy interjects that before this strike is over, she will be in the Holy Jerusalem. Higgins... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Bessy says that she’d prefer to live in the South. Margaret points out that there are... (full context)
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
When Higgins goes outside to finish his pipe, Bessy frets over the possibility that her father will go to the gin-shop; he’s not a... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
When Bessy says that Margaret has always lived in pleasant, green places and never known want or... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
Bessy asks Margaret’s pardon, explaining that she has often imagined herself to be one of those... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Margaret rejects Bessy’s interpretation, since she believes that God doesn’t willingly afflict people. She adds that Bessy should... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
While Bessy agrees that this might be wiser, she argues that in Revelation, she hears promises “so... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret offers to come back and read Bessy some of her favorite Bible chapters. She thanks Bessy for doing her so much good—she... (full context)
Chapter 19
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...Margaret will wear. Margaret obligingly models all her dresses for her mother. Later, she visits Bessy, who is amazed to hear that the Hales have been invited to the Thorntons’, since... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
When Margaret describes the white silk dress she will wear to the party, Bessy reveals that she had a vision of Margaret before she ever saw her, “drest in... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
...guilty about going to a fancy dinner when so many workers’ families are now hungry. Bessy says she shouldn’t feel bad—“some’s pre-elected to sumptuous feasts, and purple and fine linen—maybe yo’re... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret tells Bessy she is feverish. It won’t be riches or lack thereof that divide people at the... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
When Higgins comes in, seeming drunk, he hears Bessy mention the dinner party and wishes he could attend, so he could have a captive... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
From Bessy and Higgins, Margaret hears another perspective altogether. Higgins is a committee-man for the strike, and... (full context)
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
After the men leave, Bessy comments that Boucher is weak and unwise, but she pities him for all that. She... (full context)
Chapter 23
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
...home, she tells her parents nothing of what’s just happened. There is a note from Bessy, but Margaret is too tired to go to her. She feels ashamed for “disgracing” herself... (full context)
Chapter 24
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
The next morning, Margaret resolves not to think about the Thornton family, planning to visit Bessy instead. Soon, however, Mr. Thornton arrives and asks to see Margaret. Thornton, waiting nervously in... (full context)
Chapter 25
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Margaret decides to visit Bessy. When she arrives, Bessy is clearly feeling much worse, so Margaret rearranges her pillows without... (full context)
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
After reading to Bessy for a while, Margaret returns home and finds her mother singing the praises of the... (full context)
Chapter 27
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...Dixon comes in and tells Margaret that Mary Higgins has come with the news that Bessy died that morning. Mary wants Margaret to come to the Higgins’s to see Bessy’s body... (full context)
Chapter 28
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
When Margaret sees the restful smile on the deceased Bessy’s face, she is glad to have come to the Higgins’. Soon Higgins arrives home, in... (full context)
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Higgins ultimately admits that, after seeing the life Bessy has lived, he must believe “that there is a God, and that He set her... (full context)
Chapter 43
Female Agency and Strength Theme Icon
Religious Diversity and Conscience Theme Icon
Class Antagonism Theme Icon
Personal Character, Environment, and Change Theme Icon
...bids Mary Higgins a tearful goodbye, taking with her a drinking-cup to remind her of Bessy. Then she reluctantly visits Mrs. Thornton, who shows greater warmth now that Margaret is leaving,... (full context)